A Victoria elementary school that’s found itself situated across from a newly formed homeless encampment has released a list of safety commitments ahead of students’ return to class.
In an email sent to parents and guardians, senior leadership from South Park Family School – a Douglas Street school built in 1894 – say they’ve been working closely with the Victoria Police Department, the Greater Victoria School District and the City of Victoria to keep students and staff safe as they return for in-class education on Sept. 10.
Their efforts will include an everyday sweep of school grounds for garbage and drug paraphernalia and the trimming of trees, tall grass and shrubs to reduce areas of foliage that could be used as shelter or cover.
According to principal Carmen Gauvreau, VicPD have also made commitments to the school, including an increase in police presence in the area at the beginning of the school year.
“This may look like traffic enforcement for the back to school reminders, police on bikes around the school and park as well as police on foot in the school area and Michigan park,” Gauvreau writes. The police commitment comes after 15 of the school’s windows were smashed with rocks over a three-week period starting Aug. 3. No suspects have been identified in those incidents and VicPD are still looking for witnesses.
Additionally, a new sharps container was installed across the street from the school and two security officers will be on shift in the park from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day in September. In the morning hours, security guards will focus on walking routes and the area around Bridge Way.
Rich Fleming, chair of the South Park Family School Parent Advisory Council, said he’s waiting for “the rubber to hit the road” when it comes to commitments for safety.
“There’s a part of me fearing the moment a kid finds a needle or a window being broken while the kids are in school,” he said. “But the plan is 95 per cent there. The worry people have is will the city have those resources in place.”
Fleming noted that more resources are needed to solve homelessness and the opioid crisis, whether or not they exist in the vicinity of South Park School.
“This is just going to happen at another school or playground or business district,” he said. “I do want to make sure the school is safe for the kids, that the teachers are safe … but really the human in me, after being a papa bear, is actually wanting to see proper solutions.”
The volume of outdoor sheltering in Victoria skyrocketed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which decreased capacity at city shelters. While hundreds were moved to temporary shelters created by BC Housing, roughly 275 people are still living outside.
In July the City of Victoria was granted an injunction to enforce rules that would prohibit people from sheltering in environmentally and culturally sensitive areas of the park as designated by the parks bylaw.